6 Lessons from Thoughtworks Live Melbourne 2016

6 Lessons from Thoughtworks Live Melbourne 2016
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I recently attended the Thoughtworks Live (#TWLiveAu) conference in Melbourne. The conference plays host to over 160 business leaders across the country to share lessons on digital leadership.

During the day I heard presentations from Peter Mitchley-Hughes (Target Australia), Stephanie Reiger (Yiibu), Martin Fowler (Thoughtworks) and Paul Shetler (Digital Transformation Office). These are 6 lessons I took from the day.

Please note…these are not direct quotes from any of the presenters and represent my interpretations and sketchnotes of their material.

1. Articulate The ‘Why’ of Your Digital Program

When we commence any digital program, it’s important to understand our goals. These goals can be articulated at the macro level (into several statements) and also at the micro level, where every initiative has micro-goals that ladder up to the program.

Peter Mitchley-Hughes presented three goals of Target’s digital program: i) improve the shopping experience (for the ‘customer’), ii) increase frequency of interaction (for the ‘business’), iii) bring teams together to build something great (for ‘internal team members’).

When leaders clarify the organisation’s goals into concise statements it gives digital teams firm objectives to aim for.

Sketch of 3 Ways to Articulate the Why

2. Change Requires Unprecedented Creativity

Stephanie Rieger’s presentation ‘Design for Disruption’ reminded me that no matter what digital products we build, customers will find alternative ways to use them.

Stephanie put forward that the accelerating pace of change has condensed pathways for disruption.

S-curves now occur in far smaller, more frequent patterns.  The complexity of change that results from these patterns requires unprecedented and faster cycles of creativity when it comes to designing digital products.

Sketch of s-curves of change before and today

3. Understand Customers Will Re-Fit & Re-Purpose Digital Products

As leaders we need to develop new mindsets to deal with accelerating change. One of the ‘mindset changes’ Stephanie discussed was to learn how ‘desire paths’ have shifted behaviour.

In urban planning, desire paths represent the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination (Wikipedia ‘desire paths’). Human behaviour often results in desire paths that differ from intended designs.

In a digital sense, desire paths occur when behavior results from the use of digital products in ways that was not intended or ‘designed’.

By acknowledging desire paths, we realise that people will re-fit and re-create new experiences through the use of our products.

More than this, we can watch for these new behaviours. We may even elect to create products that are more flexible in nature so that desire paths can more easily occur.

4. Silos Cannot Be Avoided, But They Can Be Made Less Harmful

Martin Fowler is one of the co-authors of the Agile Manifesto. Amongst the many insights of his presentation, a theme that resonated with me is “you can’t avoid silos, but you can organise them in a way that is least harmful”.

Over the years I’ve worked in half a dozen organisations. And in all of these there were ‘silos’ of some type, whether these were created by departments, businesses, or products.

One of the ways organisations try to boost performance is to remove silos that get in the way of business objectives. The reason I like Martin’s quote is because it acknowledges silos cannot be removed, but they can be re-oriented in a way that causes the least amount of harm.

This provides reassurance to business leaders because it reminds us there is no silver bullet to deal with silos. As such, the goal needn’t be to remove them altogether, just neutralise them to a point where they do not create undue interference. This is far simpler to achieve.

Sketch of two paraphrased quotes from TW Live

5. Build Direct Connections To Customers

In other posts I’ve written about mapping journeys to customer needs as well as how to truly connect with customers.

Fowler’s presentation argued that “every person who writes code should have a direct line to the user”. This is a very meaningful concept.

If every person who created digital products was only a phone call or email away from a group of real customers, this would both help them tune their development efforts to real needs, as well as connect their work in a meaningful way to the ultimate use of their product.

This reminded me of a concept in Daniel Pink’s book ‘Drive’ (which I’ve always felt links well to online careers) where, by connecting work to meaningful pursuits and rapid feedback loops, we can  increase our enjoyment of the work we do. As leaders our goal is ideally to increase the performance of the businesses we work in as well as the enjoyment of those who work in it.

6. Articulate Your Digital Service Standards

Paul Shetler is the CEO of the Digital Transformation Office. The DTO has created a set of Digital Service Standards that they aspire to.

Articulating the goals for an organisation’s digital practice is an excellent idea. If many companies pursued this idea it would certainly help their internal teams make decisions when working on initiatives and projects.

In particular, I liked item fourteen on the DTO’s standards, which is “make sure that the service is simple enough that users succeed first time, unaided”.

Thinking about this particular standard, we can quickly imagine this being used to inform all elements of design for new digital products.

Sketch of item 14 in the digital service standards

Further Notes:
Attending conferences and events about digital is a great way to connect with new ideas and stay current on industry trends. If you enjoyed reading this post, you might also like my post from the Daze of Disruption.

Martin Fowler’s Blog is an excellent source of information on many things. Many of Stephanie Riger’s previous presentations can also be found on her website. You may also be interested to read the twitter feeds for the DTO’s as well as Paul Shetler.

I'm a digital strategist and channel manager with 15 years experience in digital, across marketing, e-commerce, online sales, digital and mobile app strategy. Companies I've worked for include Coles, ANZ and GlaxoSmithKline. I'm also a graduate and previous sessional lecturer of Strategic Foresight at Swinburne University.
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